Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Twelve Days of Christmas--a la Turka

I may have posted this in the past during my days living overseas. I don't remember. But nonetheless I think this travel article is hilarious, entertaining, and based entirely on gross generalizations about life in southern Turkey. Who knew that jolly ol' Saint Nick was from Asia Minor, eh?

Yes, Mustafa, there IS a Santa Claus!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Engagement Photos

Since I'm currently unable to upload some photos from the day of our engagement, you can check out a few that her mom posted at her site.


Isn't Olivia beautiful?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

We're engaged!

Old news is betters than no news, so . . .


Here's how it happened:

Last Saturday, December 13, we were going to go into the city for my birthday (Dec. 16). I had originally wanted to go ice skating at Millenium Park for my "birthday," because one of the first things Olivia and I did together was she taught me how to ice skate.

Well, as it turned out, the weather was awful: 38 degrees with sleet and wind gusts of up to 40 mph. So we had a quick change of plans: we went to a European bookstore near Loyola's watertower campus, and then we took the El to Olivia's surprise birthday gift for me: a splendid Turkish restaurant on Belmont near Halsted and Clark. The food was excellent, and I even got to speak some Turkish with the waiter.

As our meal progressed, Olivia said, "You're awfully quiet. Is there something on your mind?" (Duh!) I pulled out a flyer from an antique store in Richmond's Carytown district which we had visited back in March. I then read to her a journal entry from that day, how that had really turned around our relationship and showed me how wonderful she really is. Then, to commemorate that day, I pulled out an "early Christmas gift" I had purchased from that antique store: an inlaid soapstone jewelry box. However, I set it aside and told her she couldn't open it yet. (Good work, Susan, on the black velveteen gift bag!)

Then I read Olivia another journal entry about two times when she had held out her hand to me, which meant the world to me. The first time it was to encourage, challenge, and coach me; the second was to offer her forgiveness, reconcilation, and acceptance.

After this, I got down on my right knee (well, technically I got up on my knee, since we were sitting on the floor on pillows), opened the jewelry box which contained the engagement ring, and offered her my hand. I told her I wanted to be hers for the rest of my life and then asked her to marry me. With a tone of voice that spoke in glad confidence and resolution, she replied, "Yes, yes, absolutely yes."

I took the ring out of the box and put it on her left ring finger. Not knowing exactly what to do next, we both sort of just stayed there, smiling and squeezing one another's hand. But I could've stayed in that moment forever.

Every day I think now, She's going to be my wife in a matter of months! We'll get to spend every day of the rest of our lives together, and we'll never need to leave each other. It just blows my mind. It's the first thing I think about when I wake up and when I go to bed. I am filled with awe, wonder, and gratitude to God when I think of what a gift she is and of the holy mystery that is marriage.

P.S. For whatever reason, Blogger is not allowing me to upload photos properly right now, and it's doing all kinds of screwy stuff with the line spacing. I'll try to get some photos posted at some time in the new year. In the meantime I'll be traveling all over the U.S. to spend Christmas with family.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Advent: God Drawing Near

It's almost inescapable: Christmas is celebrated with placid pastoral scenes of a babe cradled in a bed of straw, with his adoring parents around him beaming. (Of course, in many nativity scenes, the holy family are literally beaming with light!) We think it's a time of good cheer and peacefulness, a time of repose, a time to say, "no more worries." And all that it is. But as I've been studying Exodus over the past few months, the picture painted there of God-come-down is entirely different.

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloudover the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. (Exodus 19:16-19)

When the God of the heavens tore open the heavens and came down to meet with his chosen people, he came as "a consuming fire" (24:17). "Our God comes and will not be silent," attests the psalmist. "A fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages" (Psalm 50:3). God coming to Earth is not a welcome sight for most people. Just ask King David!

In the same sermon from 1928 which I quoted from earlier, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says much the same--that the fearful event of God-among-us should lead Advent to be a time of self-examination.

Perhaps, after all, Advent is a time for self-examination before we open the door [to Christ]. When we stop to consider, the contrast between those early Christians and us is extraordinary. They trembled at the thought of God coming, of the day of the Lord, when Jesus, "Judge eternal, throned in splendor," would shatter the complacency of all the world. But we take the thought of God coming among us so calmly. It is all the more remarkable when we remember that we so often associate the signs of God in the world with human suffering, the cross on Golgotha. Perhaps we have thought so much of God as love eternal and we feel the warm pleasures of Christmas when he comes gently like a child. We have been shielded from the awful nature of Christmas and no longer feel afraid at the coming near of God Almighty. We have selected from the Christmas story only the pleasant bits, forgetting the awesome nature of an event in which the God of the universe, its Creator and Sustainer, draws near to this little planet, and now speaks to us. The coming of God is not only a message of joy, but also fearful news for anyone who has a conscience.

It's difficult for me to keep this in mind, when I've got 27 Christmases of warmth and cheer behind me. But perhaps only when we consider this, pondering it in wonder and awe, will the child who becomes the Prince of Peace really be good news.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

(Not) Advent: Rilke on Waiting

Okay, so this isn't exactly either Advent-related or even Christian-related, for that matter. But in view of the Bonhoeffer quote from my previous post, I thought I'd add this quote which I've always taken to heart. It's from the early twentieth-century German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet (letter 4, July 16, 1903).

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Since the time an education professor of mine at Michigan State first shared this with us, I've found a bit of comfort in this. Questions and uncertainty and waiting are okay, Rilke exhorts us. Moreover, they're something to be lived through, involved in, and borne with patience. In my own life, I think that it has been times of uncertainty, longing, and wonder--those liminal moments when I stand on the threshold of a significant decision and must take a step in one direction or another--when I most live in fear-of-the-Lord. And that's when I feel the most alive.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent: Bonhoeffer on Waiting

Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen. Greedy eyes are soon disappointed when what they saw as luscious fruit is sour to the taste. In disappointment and disgust they throw it away. The fruit, full of promise, rots on the ground. It is rejected without thanks by disappointed hands.

The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come. They lose the moment when the answers are revealed with dazzling clarity.

Who has not felt the anxieties of waiting for the declaration of friendship or love? The greatest, the deepest, the most tender experiences in all the world demand patient waiting. This waiting is not in emotional turmoil, but gently growing, like the emergence of spring, like God's laws,* like the germinating of a seed.

Not all can wait--certainly not those who are satisfied, contented, and feel that they live in the best of all possible worlds! Those who learn to wait are uneasy about their way of life, but yet have seen a vision of greatness in the world of the future and are patiently expecting its fulfillment. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!

In a few weeks we shall hear that cry of triumph. . . . But, not so quick! It is still in the distance. It calls us to learn to wait and to wait aright.

-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from a sermon delivered in Barcelona on Dec. 2, 1928.
Text: Revelation 3:20
*Presumably Bonhoeffer means the laws that govern the natural order.